Why Doesn’t Albert Pujols Walk Anymore And Other Notes
As Albert Pujols has declined the last few years, one thing that strikes me as particularly odd is the way he is no longer a particularly selective hitter at the plate. This year, he’s still hitting for power but his .321 on-base percentage is nothing short of awful for guy making his salary.
Typically, hitters walk more often as they age, not less. Batting average and stolen bases drop off once a hitter is past thirty, but they hold onto their power stroke longer and usually walk more.
Not Prince Albert. His walk rate has fallen sharply the last four seasons.
Through 2010, his age 30 season, Pujols had a very typical seasonal walks progression, at least for a hitter of his caliber. He walked 69 times in his rookie season, between 70 and 80 the next two seasons, 84 times in 2004, between 90 and 100 times every year from 2005 and 2007 and over 100 times per season in 2008 through 2010, peaking at 115 walks in 2009.
2011 was the year that Pujols stopped hitting the way he had every season up to that point. However, he was still darn good (.906 OPS) and his OPS drop-off was mainly the product of his lower on-base percentage. As no longer quite the hitter he once was, one might have expected Pujols to walk somewhere between 80 and 100 times in 2011. Instead, he walked only 61 times. At least some time has to pass before the league’s pitchers pitch differently to hit with Pujols’ track record.
He didn’t come close to walking even 61 times in 2012 or 2013, despite getting 670 plate appearances the former season. This year he’s walked only 25 times in 390 plate appearances as I write this.
Clearly, after 2011, Albert was no longer the one player in the line-up everyone pitched around. While that would certainly effect his walk totals somewhat, the far more extreme drop-off that actually occurred has me wondering if things aren’t the other way around: Pujols is no longer the guy teams pitch around in large part because he’s no longer as selective about the pitches he swings at and isn’t nearly as good at working counts into his favor as he was when he was a bomber.
In an unrelated note, the Padres hot rookie starter Odrisamer Despaigne finally had a pitching line (two earned runs allowed in 7 innings pitched on seven hits, no walks and seven strikeouts) that look like a guy with a 1.35 ERA after four starts. In his first three starts, despite an 0.92 ERA, he looked for all the world like a guy who was getting by on smoke and mirrors because he knows how to pitch and no one in MLB had ever seen him before.
Despaigne still has only 12 Ks in 26.2 IP, but it’s possible that his extremely unimpressive strikeout and K/BB rate are simply a function of a very small sample size. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Despaigne struck out plenty of hitters in 31.1 minor league innings, mostly at the AAA level, earlier this year, but he was also wild as hell. The fact that the Padres inked him to a minor league deal with a $1 million signing bonus in early May, despite a successful career in the Cuban Serie Nacional, suggests that major league scouts weren’t impressed with his stuff. If nothing else, Despaigne couldn’t ask for a more favorable place to start a major league pitching career than San Diego’s Petco Park.